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Overheard: Houston experts discuss how to navigate tech transfer

Panelists from the University of Houston and Houston Methodist discussed tech transfer challenges and opportunities for academic innovators. Photo courtesy

Groundbreaking and disruptive innovations across industries are coming out of research institutions, and their commercialization process is very different from other startups.

An expert panel within Technology transfer discussed some of the unique obstacles innovators face as they go from academia into the market — like patenting, funding, the valley of death, and more.

Missed the conversation? Here are eight key moments from the panel that took place at the University of Houston's Technology Bridge on Wednesday, May 19.

This event was hosted by InnovationMap and University of Houston.

“If your technology can immediately impact some industry, I think you should license out your technology. But if you think that the reward is much higher and does not yet match something in the industry, you should go the high risk, high reward path of doing it yourself. That’s a much more challenging. It takes years of work.”

— Hadi Ghasemi, co-founder of Elemental Coatings and Cullen associate professor in the department of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston, says on how tech transfer usually happens via those two pathways. Ghasemi explains that it also depends on the academic's passion for the product and interest in becoming an entrepreneur.

“There’s a mismatch in that you can have a really clinically impactful technology but still not have money to develop it into a product.” 

— Rashim Singh, co-founder of Sanarentero and a research assistant professor of pharmaceutics at the University of Houston College of Pharmacy, says on the different priorities from within academia and within the market.

“What I’ve seen is if you know you want to patent something, tell the right people early. Make sure you have the right players involved. Our tech office already has venture, Pharma, etc. partners that can help with the patent process.”

— Ginny Torno, administrative director of innovation and IT clinical systems at Houston Methodist

“You don’t need to be fully transparent about your technology. As a company, you need to have some secret sauce."

— Ghasemi says on the patent and paper publishing process. Academics are used to publishing their research, but when it comes to business, you need to hold some things close to the chest.

“One of the most important piece the UH Tech Bridge has provided is the wet lab space to develop these technologies a little further toward commercialization. … Wet lab is very precious space in Houston specifically because there isn’t much here.”

— Singh says on how important access to lab space is to the entrepreneur.

"“You’re starting to see more and more organizations that have innovation arms. ... There are a lot of focus on trying to make Houston another innovation hub, and I think there is more support now than even a few years ago.”

— Torno says on what's changed over the past few years, mentioning TMC3 and the Ion.

“Try to serve private capital as soon as possible. The grant money comes, and those are good and will help you prove out your technology. But once you have private money, it shows people care about your product.”

— Ghasemi says as a piece of advice for potential tech transfer entrepreneurs.

“The biggest gap is to arrange for funding — federal, private, etc. — to support during the valley of death.”

— Singh says on the struggle research-based startups, especially in drug discovery, faces as they fight to prove out their product and try to stay afloat financially.

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Building Houston

 
 

Here's your latest roundup of Houston innovation news you may have missed. Photo by Tim Leviston/Getty Images

Houston's cooling down, but the city's innovation news is heating up, and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, a Houston startup has a new C-level exec, two innovators join a international cohort of leaders, and more.

NanoTech names new COO

Carrie Horazeck is now the chief commercial officer for NanoTech. Photo courtesy of NanoTech

Houston-based materials science company NanoTech Inc. has appointed Carrie Horazeck as chief commercial officer for the startup, which created a fireproofing and carbon reduction through cool roof coatings. In her new role, Horazeck will lead marketing and sales strategy for the growing company.

“I’ve been a fan of NanoTech since I first met co-founder and CEO Mike Francis at a Halliburton Labs event last year," Horazeck says in a statement. “It’s an incredible team, with an incredible product. They are on the precipice of major growth and I’m very honored to be a part of that journey.”

Prior to NanoTech, Horazeck spent 11 years in management consulting helping to grow her clients' businesses, staying tuned into consumer trends and behaviors to guide product development and intelligent marketing strategy. She's worked with a wide range of industries and clients including Samsung, General Mills, Newell Brands, Coca-Cola, Unilever, American Express, British American Tobacco, Anheuser-Busch, and the Department of Education in New York City. Most recently, she led commercial development and market penetration strategy for an Austin based startup in the renewable energy space.

"We are excited to have Carrie join the NanoTech team. She is going to help us get one step closer to our goal of reducing carbon emissions with our cool roof coating and fireproofing critical infrastructure," says Francis in the statement.

2 Houstonians named to global cohort

Houstonians Allie Danziger and Natasha McDaniel were announced to be joining the Fall 2022 Milestone Makers cohort. Photos courtesy

Two Houston innovators have been named to Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center's Fall 2022 Milestone Makers cohort, which selects individuals addressing the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals.

The virtual, 12-week program provides individualized mentorship and executive coaching, as well as access to the Center’s vast network of industry experts to help each founder with his or her milestone. The new cohort was selected through application process, and all hope to improve the lives of and support communities across the globe. The two Houstonians in the current cohort include:

  • Allie Danziger of Ampersand, which enhances employee retention by ensuring mastery in key skills required for entry-level professionals.
  • Natasha McDaniel of Lit for Life, which offers culturally relevant reading and writing resources as well as family coaching and educational consulting services.

Applications are open for the Winter 2023 program are now open.

Houston robotics company to ring the bell on Wall Street

The Nasdaq Bell Ringing Ceremony for Nauticus Robotics, Inc. will take place this Thursday. Image via LinkedIn

Houston-based Nauticus Robotics, which went public last month via SPAC, is due to ring the Nasdaq bell on Wall Street.

The company, which now trades under the $KITT ticker, will have its bell ringing ceremony beginning at 2:45 p.m. CT on October 20 and can be viewed via this link.

Nauticus continues to be led by CEO Nicolaus Radford and the current executive team.

“The closing of this business combination represents a pivotal milestone in our company’s history as we take public our pursuit of transforming the ocean robotics industry with autonomous systems,” Radford, who founded what was known as Houston Mechatronics in 2014, said in a news release about the IPO. “Not only is the ocean a tremendous economic engine, but it is also the epicenter for building a sustainable future.”

UH named 2022 Hispanic Serving Institution Leader by U.S. Fulbright program

UH — and its students — have been recognized by the Fulbright organization. Photo courtesy of UH

For the second year in a row, the University of Houston has been named as a 2022 Fulbright Hispanic Serving Institution Leader.

“As the state’s premier Hispanic-Serving Institution and a top Fulbright producer, the University of Houston strives to ensure an environment of inclusion and success for all,” said UH President Renu Khator. “This recognition is yet another milestone that reinforces what so many already know about our institution … that our students are supported both culturally and academically.”

The recognition was announced the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities annual conference in San Diego on Oct. 10.

The University of Houston recently announced 10 student Fulbright recipients, each prepared to travel far and wide to gain international insights, according to the news release. Since 2018, nearly 50 Fulbright scholarships have been awarded to UH students.

“Enhancing learning and research experiences for students and faculty through the Fulbright Program is important to expanding the University’s international footprint,” says Michael Pelletier, executive director of UH’s Institute for Global Engagement in the release.

Texas investor named among outstanding women in clean energy

Phoebe Wang was honored for her work at Shell Ventures. Photo via LinkedIn

The U.S. Department of Energy recently announced the nine winners of the 2022 Clean Energy Education & Empowerment Awards that honors women for outstanding leadership and accomplishments in clean energy.

“For too long, there has been a significant gender gap in the energy sector, meaning half the population have had a minimized impact on one of our most important industries,” says U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm in a news release. “As we transition to a clean energy economy, we will have to tap into the pool of amazing women working in energy and grow their ranks. That’s why DOE is proud to recognize the winners of this year’s C3E Awards, a diverse group of changemaking women tackling some of the biggest challenges in energy.”

Among the honorees, Phoebe Wang, formerly of Shell Ventures and based in Texas, was recognized in the business category. Wang "leads investments in early- and late-stage startups working on technologies to accelerate the energy transition in the areas of hydrogen, carbon capture utilization and storage, energy storage, mobility, and power," per the release. In the past decade, she has invested more than $150 million startups and has been closely involved in the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship. Last week, Wang was announced to be joining the Amazon Climate Pledge Fund as investment partner.

Now in its 11th year, the C3E Inititive led by the DOE — in collaboration with the MIT Energy Initiative, Stanford University’s Precourt Institute for Energy, and the Texas A&M Energy Institute — will award each winner with a cash gift of $8,000 and national recognition of their efforts.

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